In today’s New York Times Christopher Buckley appraises Hitchens’s last book, Mortality (you can buy it for $13.79 on Amazon). It’s short (104 pages), and collects the 7 pieces about his cancer Hitchens wrote for Vanity Fair, plus a last chapter of unpublished jottings, some of which I’ve posted before. Here’s another:
“My two assets my pen and my voice — and it had to be the esophagus. All along, while burning the candle at both ends, I’d been ‘straying into the arena of the unwell’ and now ‘a vulgar little tumor’ was evident. This alien can’t want anything; if it kills me it dies but it seems very single-minded and set in its purpose. No real irony here, though. Must take absolute care not to be self-pitying or self-centered.”
Many of us have read the Vanity Fair pieces, and know how good—and heartbreaking—they were, but the book has two other essays:
“Mortality” comes with a fine foreword by his longtime Vanity Fair editor and friend Graydon Carter, who writes of Christopher’s “saucy fearlessness,” “great turbine of a mind” and “his sociable but unpredictable brand of anarchy that seriously touched kids in their 20s and early 30s in much the same way that Hunter S. Thompson had a generation before. . . . He did not mind landing outside the cozy cocoon of conventional liberal wisdom.”
Christopher’s devoted tigress wife, Carol Blue, contributes a — I’ve already used up my “heart-wrenching” quota — deeply moving afterword, in which she recalls the “eight-hour dinners” they hosted at their apartment in Washington, when after consuming enough booze to render the entire population of the nation’s capital insensible, Christopher would rise and deliver flawless 20-minute recitals of poetry, polemics and jokes, capping it off saying, “How good it is to be us.” The truth of that declaration was evident to all who had the good fortune to be present at those dazzling recreations. Bliss it was in those wee hours to be alive and in his company, though the next mornings were usually a bit less blissful.
“For me,” he writes in “Mortality,” “to remember friendship is to recall those conversations that it seemed a sin to break off: the ones that made the sacrifice of the following day a trivial one.”